Old Place like home

Gabled farmhouse hits plenty of peaks when it can fill the menu

It was Scout Day at Old City Park. Lots of kids were running around in uniforms, and ugly ones at that. Why do we make kids dress like soldiers from a third world Junta and then force them to sell us cookies and garbage bags? No wonder they've discovered lawyers and parental malpractice.

Old City Park is a museum that's like a graveyard, the kind elephants purportedly go to when they know the end is near. Only this is where Dallas' historic buildings go when they know a wrecking crew is near. And there they sit, on the lush park lawns, to be seen and remembered. And entered. Well, sometimes anyway. A lot of the buildings on this particular Saturday were locked up. Even the old lawyer's office, which means those kids in the funky uniforms were in a real pinch.

So we decided to hit Brent Place restaurant for lunch. Brent Place is the Old City Park restaurant recently taken over by Cameron Morris and chef David Burdette, both refugees from Rooster. This circa-1876 gabled farmhouse was built by James Monroe Brent and originally planted in Plano. It's a prime example of a catalog house, according to museum verbiage: a home ordered in kits and shipped by rail to rural areas to be slapped together. And not only did the house make it from Plano, but the privy and granary did too.

Which raised a question: If the technology exists to move a house and privy from Plano to the park, why couldn't more of the menu ingredients make it to our plates? Take the grilled meat loaf ($8.50), for instance. After we ordered, our server returned to tell us they'd run out. But after viewing our disappointment, he was somehow able to shake one more loaf loose. And it wasn't bad, with a blackened, slightly brittle exterior mated to an interior replete with tangy heartiness. But the much-anticipated horseradish mashed potatoes were subbed with a bland clump of white rice with no explanation.

Our server gushed over the salmon and asparagus cheesecake ($7.50). But it turns out that was out too. So we ordered the rosemary rigatoni ($7.95) with summer squash and portobello mushrooms in roasted-red-pepper butter. Only there wasn't any squash. There wasn't any portobello mushroom either. Even the red pepper butter was a figment. What arrived was a handful of gummy green pasta tubes with a scattering of red bell pepper slices and broccoli florets. In all fairness, they comped the dish -- after we pointed out the deficiencies.

Of which there were none in the pan-fried crab cakes ($8.95): a pair of dark little pucks settled on a delicious bale of rough-cut slaw. These cakes perked when dragged through the smoothly bracing sweet-pickle rémoulade. And the Caesar salad ($4.50), with airily crisp and richly flavored housemade croutons, was exquisitely dressed and seasoned.

Other items simply mumbled. The toasted curried turkey-salad sandwich ($5.95) was runny with microscopic chunks of meat and flavor almost as big. Cornmeal-crusted catfish ($8.50) was generous -- two big pieces' worth. But it was soggy and mortared with a bland, thick cornmeal encasement that flopped around in tastelessness.

Dessert kicked. The strawberry shortcake was light and moist with plush strawberries, a cushion of stirred cream, and a crisp, savory biscuit lid dusted with powdered sugar to buff out the flavors.

Brent Place is decorated with old tables and chairs, lots of flowers, and a deer head jutting out of interior chimney brick. Plus, it has a plank floor that sinks and creaks when walked on. This cozy old city feel alone, coupled with the imaginative stabs at farmhouse cuisine, make a Brent Place trek worth it. No matter what magazines they put in the privy.

 
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